First Light (2010) 

 

 

 

Director:     Matthew Whiteman. 

Starring:     Sam Heughan (Geoffrey 'Boy' Wellum),  Gary Lewis (Mac),  Ben Aldridge (Brian Kingcombe),  Alex Robertson (Tommy Lund),  Paul Kynman (Bevington),  Paul Tinto (Davy),  Jordan Bernarde (Trevor Wade),  Alex Waldmann (Drummond),  Tuppence Middleton (Grace),  Richard Walsh (Mr. Wellum).

true story of the youngest Spitfire pilot to fight in the Battle of Britain

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Curse words. 

 

"70 years ago Geoffrey Wellum fought in the Battle of Britain.  This film is based on his memoir."

January 1941.  A pilot known as Geoffrey Wellum is in a spitfire flying through the rain.  A German plane flies right over his head.  The British pilot starts firing his machineguns and hits the German plane. 

As an old man Wellum says:  "People say to me, Jeff, how do you remember these things?  How to you expect me to forget?  You don't.  You can't."

Flashback.  Wellum is driven in a car to an airfield.  He is beginning duty at the age of 18.  Jeff meets the main officer Mac.  He tells Mac that he hasn't had any experience with spitfires.  He then meets the flight commander, a young man named Brian Kingcome.  A fellow with Brian, named Tommy Lund, tells Jeff that they are off to the pub and suggests he come along. 

At the pub drinking, Jeff is soon vomiting outside the pub.  Brian tells him to come back in and have another, but Jeff isn't even finished with his vomiting. 

The next day Jeff gets into a spitfire and the mechanics show him how to start the plane.  He takes the spitfire up for a test flight. 

Jeff is extremely impressed by the spitfire and tells the mechanics that it was "absolutely, bloody marvelous". 

Jeff tells Mac that he is ready to go up on a mission.  Mac remains silent. 

Jeff and Tommy take a bicycle ride and come across a dead pilot being watched over by a soldier. 

Jeff welcomes a new pilot named Drummond.  He offers his hand, but Drummond doesn't shake hands with Jeff.  Jeff doesn't let that discourage him and asks about Drummond's part in the battle for Norway against the Germans.   Drummond says that was tough. 

Bevington tells Jeff that he is going to fly with the squadron tomorrow morning.   Furthermore, Jeff will be his wingman.  Jeff now goes out for a walk.  He wants to make sure he can measure up to the assignment tomorrow. 

At night he can't sleep very much.  The next day he sees Mac write in chalk on the blackboard the name of Wellum.  He looks around at the other pilots and none of them look jumpy, except Jeff himself.  The call comes and the men run to their respective planes.  And off they go. 

Up in the air Jeff is shocked to see the number of German planes.  It must have looked like hundreds to Jeff.  His comment is:  "Oh, my fucking Christ."   The spitfire pilots knock out one plane and immediately find another plane to knock-out.  A German fighter plane gets behind Jeff's spitfire and his plane is hit several times.  He tries to get theGerman  plane off his back and he does so.  And now all alone, he flies back to the airfield.  When he gets out of the plane he looks so unstable that the mechanics ask him if he's been hurt.  He says no, but it still looks like he's drunk.  The mechanics tell him that the plane is so shot up that it's just going to be retired from service.  Jeff says then they better get him another spitfire. 

As narrator Jeff says that when that Messerschmitt 109 was after him, he was thinking to himself: if you can get away from this, you can get away with anything. 

When Bevington sees Jeff, he tells him:  "You're a lucky sod.  You [should have] stuck on my wing.  If there's any justice in the world, you'd be cinders now."  Wellum stands absolutely still, thinking about what Bevington told him.  But he can't think of it for long, because his girlfriend Grace has come to see him.  He is in a bit of shock, so his first words aren't very useful for communication.  Grace says she can't tell if he's pleased to see her or not.  Jeff finally recovers and tells Grace that he was sorry about what happened to her brother.  After a long pause, he tells her she looks beautiful. 

At night Grace and Jeff go dancing with the other fliers and their girls.  Billie Holiday sings via a phonograph while the dance goes on.  The scene changes to another fighting mission. 

Wellum borrows some money from a couple of his friends, gets permission to use a car and takes his girl to a secluded spot.  He also gives her a broach.  They walk into the woods where they can really be alone.  Jeff gets a bit distracted as he listens to the planes fly over their heads. 

Wellum gets his first confirmed kill.  It was a Junkers 88.  (The Junkers Ju 88 was a German Luftwaffe twin-engine, multi-role aircraft.  16,000 of them were produced.)

His roommate Drummond tells Jeff that he always fancied a quiet life, but serving in the armed forces is practically a family tradition.  He taps on his own head while telling Wellum that you have to turn this thing off in aerial combat.  "There's no time to think; just act."

In the pub, Drummond sits off in a corner by himself, while the other pilots celebrate one thing or another. 

As narrator, Wellum says:  "We fought at first light, high noon, evening, dusk.  It was a relentless ritual and we had no idea when it will end.  All that mattered was getting airborne, fighting the war, surviving until the next day, day after day after day." 

September 1940.  Drummond is dead.  He collided with another spitfire.  At night Jeff looks over at the empty bed next to him. 

The next day the pilots and mechanics play a game of cricket.  Mac comes over and tells them they will have to go up again.  After a brief hesitation, the pilots walk over to get into their planes. 

Brian is shot down and crashes on the beach.  His name is removed from the blackboard. 

Mac comes to see Wellum.  He has seen the man very much affected by the death of squadron leader Brian and he is worried about him.  He wants Wellum to take a short break.  Mac gives him a 48 hour pass. 

Brian goes back home.  He takes a look at his bedroom.  He was pleased to see his room as he had left it, but then a feeling came over him that he just couldn't wait to get back to the squadron.  He was coping without emotion, but at home emotions wafted over him.  His father comes into the bedroom and says he's not upset that his son is not staying the night.  He will tell mother that her son had to get back to the squadron.  He gives his son a small bottle of liquor that he can put in his jacket pockets.  Dad starts to leave, but stops and says:  "I'm proud of you, son.  We all are."

Back on the base Jeff and Grace go for a picnic.  Jeff tells her how surprised everyone was when they got Brian.    The meaning being that if they can get Brian, they can get anyone of the pilots.  Jeff starts crying and Grace consoles him.  He tells her that maybe at times he won't call Grace, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care about her.  They start kissing. 

When Wellum returns to the base, he is totally surprised to see Brian alive.  The lead pilot tells Jeff that he bailed out and landed somewhere in Dover.  He is, however, on crutches as the "bastards" shot him in the leg.  Mac comes out and gives Wellum a letter.  Wellum opens it up and sees an announcement that he is getting the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Brian put his name in for the medal. 

January 1941.  Wellum says that all the pilots developed combat fatigue.  At the time, they didn't know it.  The pilots spoke about it in terms of "exhaustion".  "And if you got too tired that was when you lost your concentration, and "Uh, I can't be bothered;  I can't be bothered; come on, kill me.'"

Mac gives Brian his orders.  Brian tells his pilots that they are going over water on convoy patrol.  "Krauts are nailing our shipping again."  Tommy and Wellum are going up.  The weather is pouring rain. Wellum particularly does not like the idea of going up in this kind of weather.  

Back to the present.  Wellum gets the message that a "bandit" is coming behind them.  He starts panicking a bit because in this weather, he can't see anything but fog and rain.  Then a plane comes flying right over Wellman's head.  Wellum fires his machine guns at the plane.  He hits the plane alright, but then he loses sight of it in the terrible weather.  But now he has the onerous job of getting back to base.  Tommy is already back on the airfield. 

Wellman is almost out of fuel.  He drops the plane lower, under the clouds and now can see where he is. Wellman is an hour late, but he does make it back to base.  The other pilots rush over to him to hear what happened.  Jeff is tired and angry about what happened.  When Tommy asks him where were you, Jeff snarls:  "Chasing a fucking German!  Where were you?"  Tommy decides to leave Jeff alone.  Brian comes up to Wellum and asks him why didn't he follow the flight instructions?  Wellman says he's sorry, but sometimes things just happen that way.  Brian assures Wellum that he has nothing to prove. 

August 1941.  As narrator, Wellum says:  "We were never to have a moment's peace."  By this time Wellum had carried out 50 missions.  He no longer thought about dying.   "I had become an automaton." 

Tommy Lund dies in combat.  Wellum says about him:  "Tommy Lund was a lovely chap  --  very dear friend, very dear friend.  Went into the Channel.  But all the best blokes did.  And blokes like me got away with it."

Jeff goes to the pub, but he feels out of it.  He leaves the pub early.  He takes a drive alone to a secluded place, parks the car and cries.  Old Mr. Wellum says he didn't know it at the time, but he thinks he was like a stretchable band whose elasticity had reached its limit. 

Brian comes to him and tells him the fellows will miss him, but he has done enough.  Eighteen months of this is enough for anyone.  "You've come to the end of the line . . . .  You're finished."  He is taking another post.  One where he will be an instructor.   Wellum says he doesn't want to go and Brian just says:  "I know."  Brian turns and walks away from Wellum. 

Wellum thought himself a bit of failure and that it was all down hill from his peak.  Mac comes to see him when he is about to leave for his new posting.  He says to  Wellum that when he returned safely to base from his last mission:  "At least, I thought, Geoffrey Wellum has made it and left.  God knows I've written enough letters to the parents of those who didn't."  The two men shake hands. 

Old man Wellum says he asked himself:    "Was it worth it?  All those young men I fought and flew with?  All those chaps who are no longer with us.  I asked myself that question and I can't answer it.  I suppose it must have been.  It must have been.  I am still struggling."

"Nobody wants a medal. Nobody wants a thank you.  But it would be nice just to be remembered, because then you must think of all of us and not just those of us who survived."

"Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, DFC, returned to combat in 1942.  His tour ended during the siege of Malta when he suffered a complete nervous breakdown.  He was 20 years old.  He married Grace in 1944 and remained in the RAF until 1961." 

"Group Captain Brian Kingcome, DSO, DFC remained in active service for the duration of the war.  He was invalided out of the RAF in 1954.  After a successful career in the furniture business he died in 1994."

"In the three months of intense air battles that became known as the Battle of Britain, 92 squadron achieved the highest combat score of any in the Royal Air Force."

"Dedicated to all fighter pilots who flew in defense of freedom during the Second World War."

 

This film is especially interesting because it a true story based on the memoirs of Geoffrey Wellum, a spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain.  We see the battle through Wellum's eyes.  The real Wellum narrates part of the film with commentary on what he and/or the group was feeling during the battle.  The toll on Wellum's nerves was great.  He reached his limit of tolerance and was send to a post where he would be a flying instructor.  He later returned to being a combat pilot and had the nervous breakdown in Malta that was avoided in the Battle of Britain and its aftermath.  Sam Heughan (as Geoffrey 'Boy' Wellum) did a good job of acting. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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